For years in Australia, they compared any young batsman of some class with Sir Donald Bradman and that became a curse for the young man. In the case of Sachin Tendulkar, the great Don himself said how the Indian reminded of him of his own style of batting. Mercifully, in India there has been no one to compare him with.
Even as a 16-year-old on his second tour in New Zealand, he was the star attraction. They called him 'Boy Wonder' and it is a rare distinction that he has not been dropped from the India team since the day he made his Test debut 22 years ago against Pakistan. He chose his matches and tours till the team management found a way to rest him in a bizarre rotation policy in the ODIs on the recent tour of Australia.
There were stretches when he could not reach the bar he has set for himself. Just as it took 370 days for him to get his 100th hundred, there was a time when he had only a couple of hundreds against Bangladesh to show. There was a spell when his overseas averages fell. Yes, there was a time when he could not cross the 30-run mark in nine Test innings.
Curiously, his landmark knocks came against Bangladesh. Just as he picked Bangladesh to hit his hundredth hundred, he chose to get his highest international score, 248 not out came in a Test in Dhaka, in 2004.
A batsman of great skill, he seems to have plenty of time to play his strokes and to match these qualities his ball sense was terrific. He showed all these attributes and with it the composure to play a big innings even when he was so young. He talks of dreams and everyone who has seen him from his first international knock knew the sky was his limit.
Watching and following his cricket all these years has been one of the pleasures of making a living as a reporter. On that 1989-90 New Zealand tour, he got all the freedom and protection he needed to enjoy himself. Those were the days when on tours there was not so much of nitpicking by the media.
He was the talking point wherever people discussed cricket. 'What's special about that kid,' the cabbies in New Zealand wanted to know and 'I can't imagine a 16-year-old facing Richard Hadlee who has taken 400 Test wickets,' said an amateur painter as he sketched the ambiance of Christchurch, the garden city with Gothic architecture in South Island, as a memento to be given to him.
Twelve years on, in Harare, he was a confident young man. By then he had sized up the media and knew how to field uncomfortable questions and speak his mind out.
As a batsman, Tendulkar's greatest asset is his confidence before he goes in to bat, that he is going to make runs. And that's where he is a cut above two of his great contemporaries, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting. But both have no hesitation that Tendulkar has something extra to make him a class apart.
There were noises that he should call it a day. Someone coined that terrible headline 'Endulkar.' He was unruffled, he let his bat do the talking and it silenced and shamed his critics. Now his peers are advising him to quit the limited-overs cricket after seeing him struggle in Australia. He might prolong his Test career, but not because someone said so. He should feel it himself.
The only time he betrayed his emotions was in the aftermath of the 2007 World Cup disaster in the Caribbeans. There were shrill calls for his head and he openly ticked off then coach Greg Chappell, inviting a show-cause notice from the Indian board.
Another great quality of Tendulkar is that he inspires not only his teammates but others, too. Indians who shared the dressing room swear by him while an ageing Ponting went public saying that he could extend his career thanks to the resilience of Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
Anyone who has played with him unreservedly says that he has benefited by Tendulkar's ability to convey the finer points of the game.
Tendulkar talks of other Indian greats with humility. He showered praise on V.V.S Laxman after their record 353-run fourth-wicket partnership in the 2004 Sydney Test. Seeing Laxman hit 30 fours in his 178 to Tendulkar's 33 in his unbeaten 241, he put the artistry of 'VVS' in perspective.
'When Laxman was playing those shots, I decided it was best to just watch and enjoy his batting rather than try to do what he was doing.'
It is not that Tendulkar had no problems with his technique over the years, mostly necessitated by injuries. He made quite a few subtle and not so subtle corrections in his batting from time to time to suit his physical ability. Eventually, he alone knows what his body is and whether he still enjoys his cricket. He will announce his big decision when the time comes.
(V.Srivatsa can be contacted at email@example.com)